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Billy Cobham - Billy Cobham / Colin Towns / HR Big Band: Meeting Of The Spirits - A Celebration Of The Mahavishnu Orchestra CD (album) cover


Billy Cobham


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.69 | 7 ratings

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Dick Heath
Special Collaborator
Jazz-Rock Specialist
4 stars It seems to me that it has taken quite some time for jazz fusionists to shift to what may loosely be called big band arrangements. From the previous 40 years Don Ellis, Loose Tubes, Mike Gibbs and very few other would come to mind, but since 2000 the number of big bands has greatly increased - even though the economics of running a big band has become increasingly prohibitive. Both bigger bands doing new original compositions/new arrangements (e.g. Les Projectionnistes, Mattthew Bourne), or old compositions/new arrangements, can be found. WRT the latter type Frank Zappa's music has been subjected most (e.g. Le Boca), but you'll find Soft Machine (e.g. Polysofts), Weather Report, Jaco Pastorius, etc. been subject to the modern "jazz" big band treatment. And now Mahavishnu Orchestra.

While the liner notes would have you believe MO haven't been treated to the big band arrangement before, in fact Don Sebesky for his Giant Box LP double, as early as 1971, fused Stravinski's Firebird with MO's Birds of Fire (and with Billy Cobham playing drums!). However, HR Big Band provides a significantly more jazz (yes , jazz rock) affair than Sebesky. Colin Towns is a old campaigner in the rock field having played keyboards in the Ian Gillan Band (of course, the jazz rock variant), but his website will quickly let you know he is a serious and jazz composer nowadays. And probably the genius of this recording is having the involvement of Billy Cobham.

So having read many a positive review of the album, largely in the jazz press or jazz columns of the UK heavy press, I order it from Amazon. When it arrived it went straight on the CD player, although with some trepidation. That soon melted away because Towns have found the essence of the complex interplay of the original MO, and transcribed it for predominantly wind and wood players. It still come through to the listener as exciting, but now in quite different musical colours. The guitarist doesn't (thank goodness) try to do a Mclaughlin but still conveys the sense of the original. Billy Cobham could have been all over this but is very tastefully restrained, while still providing the distinctive polyrhythms which identify his style of playing. He does a solo, it is a short but high quality solo, to segue from one tune to the next.

I was going to suggest the title track as a taster - but in reality it is difficult for me to select a specific track, since all are excellent.

Since big band arrangement may be an acquired taste (but this is wonderful place to start), I'll back down (from 4.5 to 5 stars) and go for the 4 star.

Dick Heath | 4/5 |


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